Monday, November 14, 2016

Kaikoura: a different defence force would do it better

UPDATED 16 November
UPDATED 17 November

So today (14 Nov 2016) we have had some big earthquakes. These have hit the north eastern corner of the South Island and buried large tracts of the main trunk line, State Highway One, cutting off Kaikoura.This town of about 2,000 now has no water, no sewerage, and no supply chain. It's not good.

The response so far from the defence force has been to fire up some NH90 helicopters and start loading the HMNZS Canterbury.

The defence force has rounded up an "international flotilla" of USS Sampson (a destroyer), Australian frigate  HMAS Darwin, Canada frigate HMCS Vancouver, and added offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington, frigate HMNZS Te Kaha, and the oil tanker HMNZS Endeavour to the expedition. The total complement of all these ships is 1,065 which is about half the population of Kaikoura.

Despite the fact that Radio New Zealand thinks Canterbury is a "frigate" the difference between Canterbury and the frigates couldn't be more important. Unlike Canterbury frigates can't carry cargo. They carry weapons for fighting other ships. So the three foreign frigates are only useful for supplying free helicopters. The Canadian SeaKing and US and Australian helicopter Seahawks are perhaps the best helicopters available to the operation. Getting them free from other navies is indeed most welcome. Te Kaha's Seasprite is not much use for transport as they have small cabins.

The frigates, of course, cannot dock in a small fishing village like Kaikoura, nor can they land anyone except through the helicopters. So they can sit out to sea and look impressive. Weirdly enough the galleys/kitchens of these vessels are probably the most important contribution they can make. So what we really have is  a collection of four heavily armed, takeaway bars.

The Endeavour is an excellent vessel which can supply fuel. Fuel is really important for cut off communites because it powers vehicles, tools, pumps and generators. Running out of fuel is a real problem. Getting fuel to shore, however will require a bit or work.

While the Navy helicopters are nice to have it shouldn't be forgotten that this is the South Island we are talking about. There are literally hundreds of helicopters in the South Island able to fly into Kaikoura more cheaply than the military.

The RNZAF NH90 can carry about four tonnes over a reasonable distance but compared to a truck that isn't much. The real problem with this is the NH90s cost heaps to fly. Given 2014 defence estimates which put No.3 squadron's costs at $229 million per annum and NH90 flying hours at 1700 per year, we can estimate a cost per hour of around $100,000, Every resupply trip from Christchurch or Wellington flying NH90s around Kaikoura and you've spent the equivalent of buying someone's house off them at pre earthquake rates. The government can't afford to use helicopters that expensive for very long. It would be better off leasing them.

The second problem is the HMNZS Canterbury. The Canterbury costs $67m a year to run and offers 144 sea days. The Canterbury is not huge but she is not small either. Kaikoura is a fishing village with nowhere a ship that large can berth. That means she will have to land supplies using her two landing craft. Obviously loading landing craft in the water can be a tricky operation.  Not something to be attempted in difficult conditions (not unusual off New Zealand's coasts) and the 40 tonnes each craft can carry will obviously take some time to load, transport, land, unload and return. [Update 17Nov] (the landing craft couldn't be used because of conditions yesterday but tourists were evacuated using RHIBS, these are too small for cargo). So Canterbury can provide initial aid but it too does not constitute a lasting solution.

[UPDATE 17NOV] A land route for all terrain vehicles has been opened to Kaikoura by a civilian contractor demonstrating once again that in a civil defence emergency there is no particular need for the defence force. Despite this the PR spin has been to call the route suitable for "military" style vehicles. Watch for a PR stunt involving the thoroughly useless LAV-III - an infantry combat vehicle that the NZDF bought for an outrageous $7m, which can only carry two tonnes of cargo at most. Hopefully the NZDF which has high speed combat tractors and the popular MAN military truck will be able to start supply convoys. The MAN trucks have best possible payload and terrain crossing capability and were an excellent choice for the Army and endorsed by defencecosts.nz, however defencecosts has also called for the NZDF to equip itself with tracked carriers such as the Bronco from Singapore Kinetics.

These vehicles (originally designed in Sweden by Hagglunds) which can haul five tonnes each not only have very low pressure on the ground but can also take water shortcuts by swimming if necessary. At present the NZDF has no amphibious vehicles and relies on bridge building even in dynamic or hostile conditions.

Although it is obvious that the route to Kaikoura is not exactly safe it is possible. This is one of the situations where the military being the military are indeed different to civilian contractors. While nobody wants to see any defence force personnel hurt there is no way under occupational safety and health law a private firm could contract to supply Kaikoura.

This whole Kaikoura scenario was, in fact, on my mind when I put together the alternate defence system on the www.defencecosts.nz website.

The reason is that the Kaikoura situation is not that surprising. Wellington could easily face the same problems. The Wellington lifelines group estimates road and rail access outages to the capital could last up to three months. This is a bit of a problem in a city with no more than three days food at any one time.


Nelson, The West Coast, and Takaka face similar potential problems of isolation created by a combination of steep and unstable terrain and potential problems of poor maritime access for large ships after a major quake.

So my solution was a fleet of New Zealand built inshore patrol and utility vessels modelled after the Seacor Cheetah.


The Cheetah is a fast (up to 40 knots) crew boat with a decent range (up to 1,600nm) and cargo carrying capability. There isn't a fishing boat anywhere that can outrun her and she's big enough to be obnoxious to any fishing boat that tried to ignore her. In humanitarian situations her advantage is her shallow 2m draft which means she can berth anywhere a fishing boat can. At economy speed she burns 265 gallons of diesel an hour (carrying 25,900) but achieves 31 knots, potentially carrying 150 tonnes. Burning more she can make 40 knots. Such a vessel is perfect for multiple rapid turnaround resupply operations. Indeed she was built to outperform helicopters at precisely that task.

Operating out of Lyttleton vessels like this could easily provide a temporary supply line to Kaikoura at quite reasonable operating costs. If, as envisaged, there was a fleet of them they vessels could be rotated so that crews and equipment could continue their maritime patrol role as well.

I confess there is a reason why I was particularly drawn to a fleet of these ships apart from their flexibility and utility. The engines are Hamilton Jets. That's right, made in New Zealand. The hull is aluminium of the kind we also make. So here is a ship that could be readily made domestically allowing us to do what every other developed nation on earth does: use military spending for industrial development.

Moreover these ships have their uses when deployed internationally. Assuming they have a nose mounted stabilised remote weapon system, along with fire-fighting and oil spill suppression systems, they can be used to carry teams among the islands of the Pacific based out of either small ports or supported by a mother ship acting as a tanker. For anti pirate operations they have the advantage of the speed of a very fast speed boat but the size and range of larger vessel. While such cats have better sea-keeping than monohulls these are not ships to take to sea in the worst conditions, however they can easily outmanouver any storm.

In the very unlikely event of hostilities in this part of the world they could be converted into fast missile attack boats using missiles like the Penguin, or even as a support ship for anti submarine warfare. In the ASW role they would have the speed to make engagement by hostile submarines very difficult, they could drop sonar buoys by the bucket load and provide a platform for helicopters. The craft would be similar to the Norwegian Skjold fast attack corvette.

The assumption of the Seacor Cheetah was however also based around the purchase of two logistic support ships from Damen.


These ships are a combination of container vessel, tanker and vehicle transport. They can land containers and vehicles or earthmoving equipment and people. They also have a small hospital on board. The idea was to replace the Endeavour (which is being replaced anyway) and the frigates with these ships. This was the most economical solution to the matrix of missions that we confront us. Unfortunately the Navy's actual response was its half billion dollar oil tanker because the government is willing to shower $20 billion taxpayers dollars on it irrespective of what a waste it is and how much other departments could use the money to save lives or improve New Zealander's wellbeing.

New Zealand has a major disaster every eighty years. It has minor disasters like Kaikoura every ten. The return period of disasters is far, far greater than the return period of wars. The trick is to build a defence force that does what only a defence force can do (ie shoot real enemies instead of imaginary ones, and not replace civilian facilities) but which is flexible enough to respond to the real low intensity warfare, humanitarian and patrol, missions a defence force may be faced with. That means it must be small, efficient and be prepared to get out of the way and let civilians do most of the work.

For more information read http://www.defencecosts.nz





Kaikoura: a different defence force would do it better

UPDATED 16 November [New text in grey]

So today (14 Nov 2016) we have had some big earthquakes. These have hit the north eastern corner of the South Island and buried large tracts of the main trunk line, State Highway One, cutting off Kaikoura.This town of about 2,000 now has no water, no sewerage, and no supply chain. It's not good.

The response so far from the defence force has been to fire up some NH90 helicopters and start loading the HMNZS Canterbury.

The defence force has rounded up an "international flotilla" of USS Sampson (a destroyer), Australian frigate  HMAS Darwin, Canada frigate HMCS Vancouver, and added offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington, frigate HMNZS Te Kaha, and the oil tanker HMNZS Endeavour to the expedition. The total complement of all these ships is 1,065 which is about half the population of Kaikoura.

Despite the fact that Radio New Zealand thinks Canterbury is a "frigate" the difference between Canterbury and the frigates couldn't be more important. Unlike Canterbury frigates can't carry cargo. They carry weapons for fighting other ships. So the three foreign frigates are only useful for supplying free helicopters. The Canadian SeaKing and US and Australian helicopter Seahawks are perhaps the best helicopters available to the operation. Getting them free from other navies is indeed most welcome. Te Kaha's Seasprite is not much use for transport as they have small cabins.

The frigates, of course, cannot dock in a small fishing village like Kaikoura, nor can they land anyone except through the helicopters. So they can sit out to sea and look impressive. Weirdly enough the galleys/kitchens of these vessels are probably the most important contribution they can make. So what we really have is  a collection of four heavily armed, takeaway bars.

The Endeavour is an excellent vessel which can supply fuel. Fuel is really important for cut off communites because it powers vehicles, tools, pumps and generators. Running out of fuel is a real problem. Getting fuel to shore, however will require a bit or work.

While the Navy helicopters are nice to have it shouldn't be forgotten that this is the South Island we are talking about. There are literally hundreds of helicopters in the South Island able to fly into Kaikoura more cheaply than the military.

The RNZAF NH90 can carry about four tonnes over a reasonable distance but compared to a truck that isn't much. The real problem with this is the NH90s cost heaps to fly. Given 2014 defence estimates which put No.3 squadron's costs at $229 million per annum and NH90 flying hours at 1700 per year, we can estimate a cost per hour of around $100,000, Every resupply trip from Christchurch or Wellington flying NH90s around Kaikoura and you've spent the equivalent of buying someone's house off them at pre earthquake rates. The government can't afford to use helicopters that expensive for very long. It would be better off leasing them.

The second problem is the HMNZS Canterbury. The Canterbury costs $67m a year to run and offers 144 sea days. The Canterbury is not huge but she is not small either. Kaikoura is a fishing village with nowhere a ship that large can berth. That means she will have to land supplies using her two landing craft. Obviously loading landing craft in the water can be a tricky operation. Not something to be attempted in difficult conditions (not unusual off New Zealand's coasts) and the 40 tonnes each craft can carry will obviously take some time to load, transport, land, unload and return. So Canterbury can provide initial aid but it too does not constitute a lasting solution.

This scenario was in fact on my mind when I put together the alternate defence system on the www.defencecosts.nz website.

The reason is that the Kaikoura situation is not that surprising. Wellington could easily face the same problems. The Wellington lifelines group estimates road and rail access outages to the capital could last up to three months. This is a bit of a problem in a city with no more than three days food at any one time.


Nelson, The West Coast, and Takaka face similar potential problems of isolation created by a combination of steep and unstable terrain and potential problems of poor maritime access for large ships after a major quake.

So my solution was a fleet of New Zealand built inshore patrol and utility vessels modelled after the Seacor Cheetah.


The Cheetah is a fast (up to 40 knots) crew boat with a decent range (up to 1,600nm) and cargo carrying capability. There isn't a fishing boat anywhere that can outrun her and she's big enough to be obnoxious to any fishing boat that tried to ignore her. In humanitarian situations her advantage is her shallow 2m draft which means she can berth anywhere a fishing boat can. At economy speed she burns 265 gallons of diesel an hour (carrying 25,900) but achieves 31 knots, potentially carrying 150 tonnes. Burning more she can make 40 knots. Such a vessel is perfect for multiple rapid turnaround resupply operations. Indeed she was built to outperform helicopters at precisely that task.

Operating out of Picton vessels like this could easily provide a temporary supply line to Kaikoura at quite reasonable operating costs. If, as envisaged, there was a fleet of them they vessels could be rotated so that crews and equipment could continue their maritime patrol role as well.

I confess there is a reason why I was particularly drawn to a fleet of these ships apart from their flexibility and utility. The engines are Hamilton Jets. That's right made in New Zealand. The hull is aluminium of the kind we also make. So here is a ship that could be readily made domestically allowing us to do what every other developed nation on earth does: use military spending for industrial development.

Moreover these ships have their uses when deployed internationally. Assuming they have a nose mounted stabilised remote weapon system, along with fire-fighting and oil spill suppression systems, they can be used to carry teams among the islands of the Pacific based out of either small ports or supported by a mother ship acting as a tanker. For anti pirate operations they have the advantage of the speed of a very fast speed boat but the size and range of larger vessel. While such cats have better sea-keeping than monohulls these are not ships to take to sea in the worst conditions, however they can easily outmanouver any storm.

In the very unlikely event of hostilities in this part of the world they could be converted into fast missile attack boats using missiles like the Penguin, or even as a support ship for anti submarine warfare. In the ASW role they would have the speed to make engagement by hostile submarines very difficult, they could drop sonar buoys by the bucket load and provide a platform for helicopters. The craft would be similar to the Norwegian Skjold fast attack corvette.

The assumption of the Seacor Cheetah was however also based around the purchase of two logistic support ships from Damen.

These ships are a combination of container vessel, tanker and transport. They can carry landing craft, helicopters, and people. They also have a small hospital on board. The idea was to replace the Endeavour (which is being replaced anyway) and the frigates with these ships. Unfortunately the Navy's actual response was its half billion dollar oil tanker.

New Zealand has a major disaster every eighty years. It has minor disasters like Kaikoura every ten. The return period of disasters is far, far greater than the return period of wars. The trick is to build a defence force that does what only a defence force can do (ie not replace civilian transport helicopters - there is no need for a military specification in a civil defence disaster) but which is flexible enough to respond to all the possible hazards a defence force may be faced with.

For more information read http://www.defencecosts.nz





Kaikoura: a different defence force would do it better

UPDATED 16 November [New text in grey]

So today (14 Nov 2016) we have had some big earthquakes. These have hit the north eastern corner of the South Island and buried large tracts of the main trunk line, State Highway One, cutting off Kaikoura.This town of about 2,000 now has no water, no sewerage, and no supply chain. It's not good.

The response so far from the defence force has been to fire up some NH90 helicopters and start loading the HMNZS Canterbury.

The defence force has rounded up an "international flotilla" of USS Sampson (a destroyer), Australian frigate  HMAS Darwin, Canada frigate HMCS Vancouver, and added offshore patrol vessel HMNZS Wellington, frigate HMNZS Te Kaha, and the oil tanker HMNZS Endeavour to the expedition. The total complement of all these ships is 1,065 which is about half the population of Kaikoura.

Despite the fact that Radio New Zealand thinks Canterbury is a "frigate" the difference between Canterbury and the frigates couldn't be more important. Unlike Canterbury frigates can't carry cargo. They carry weapons for fighting other ships. So the three foreign frigates are only useful for supplying free helicopters. The Canadian SeaKing and US and Australian helicopter Seahawks are perhaps the best helicopters available to the operation. Getting them free from other navies is indeed most welcome. Te Kaha's Seasprite is not much use for transport as they have small cabins.

The frigates, of course, cannot dock in a small fishing village like Kaikoura, nor can they land anyone except through the helicopters. So they can sit out to sea and look impressive. Weirdly enough the galleys/kitchens of these vessels are probably the most important contribution they can make. So what we really have is  a collection of four heavily armed, takeaway bars.

The Endeavour is an excellent vessel which can supply fuel. Fuel is really important for cut off communites because it powers vehicles, tools, pumps and generators. Running out of fuel is a real problem. Getting fuel to shore, however will require a bit or work.

While the Navy helicopters are nice to have it shouldn't be forgotten that this is the South Island we are talking about. There are literally hundreds of helicopters in the South Island able to fly into Kaikoura more cheaply than the military.

The RNZAF NH90 can carry about four tonnes over a reasonable distance but compared to a truck that isn't much. The real problem with this is the NH90s cost heaps to fly. Given 2014 defence estimates which put No.3 squadron's costs at $229 million per annum and NH90 flying hours at 1700 per year, we can estimate a cost per hour of around $100,000, Every resupply trip from Christchurch or Wellington flying NH90s around Kaikoura and you've spent the equivalent of buying someone's house off them at pre earthquake rates. The government can't afford to use helicopters that expensive for very long. It would be better off leasing them.

The second problem is the HMNZS Canterbury. The Canterbury costs $67m a year to run and offers 144 sea days. The Canterbury is not huge but she is not small either. Kaikoura is a fishing village with nowhere a ship that large can berth. That means she will have to land supplies using her two landing craft. Obviously loading landing craft in the water can be a tricky operation. Not something to be attempted in difficult conditions (not unusual off New Zealand's coasts) and the 40 tonnes each craft can carry will obviously take some time to load, transport, land, unload and return. So Canterbury can provide initial aid but it too does not constitute a lasting solution.

This scenario was in fact on my mind when I put together the alternate defence system on the www.defencecosts.nz website.

The reason is that the Kaikoura situation is not that surprising. Wellington could easily face the same problems. The Wellington lifelines group estimates road and rail access outages to the capital could last up to three months. This is a bit of a problem in a city with no more than three days food at any one time.


Nelson, The West Coast, and Takaka face similar potential problems of isolation created by a combination of steep and unstable terrain and potential problems of poor maritime access for large ships after a major quake.

So my solution was a fleet of New Zealand built inshore patrol and utility vessels modelled after the Seacor Cheetah.


The Cheetah is a fast (up to 40 knots) crew boat with a decent range (up to 1,600nm) and cargo carrying capability. There isn't a fishing boat anywhere that can outrun her and she's big enough to be obnoxious to any fishing boat that tried to ignore her. In humanitarian situations her advantage is her shallow 2m draft which means she can berth anywhere a fishing boat can. At economy speed she burns 265 gallons of diesel an hour (carrying 25,900) but achieves 31 knots, potentially carrying 150 tonnes. Burning more she can make 40 knots. Such a vessel is perfect for multiple rapid turnaround resupply operations. Indeed she was built to outperform helicopters at precisely that task.

Operating out of Picton vessels like this could easily provide a temporary supply line to Kaikoura at quite reasonable operating costs. If, as envisaged, there was a fleet of them they vessels could be rotated so that crews and equipment could continue their maritime patrol role as well.

I confess there is a reason why I was particularly drawn to a fleet of these ships apart from their flexibility and utility. The engines are Hamilton Jets. That's right made in New Zealand. The hull is aluminium of the kind we also make. So here is a ship that could be readily made domestically allowing us to do what every other developed nation on earth does: use military spending for industrial development.

Moreover these ships have their uses when deployed internationally. Assuming they have a nose mounted stabilised remote weapon system, along with fire-fighting and oil spill suppression systems, they can be used to carry teams among the islands of the Pacific based out of either small ports or supported by a mother ship acting as a tanker. For anti pirate operations they have the advantage of the speed of a very fast speed boat but the size and range of larger vessel. While such cats have better sea-keeping than monohulls these are not ships to take to sea in the worst conditions, however they can easily outmanouver any storm.

In the very unlikely event of hostilities in this part of the world they could be converted into fast missile attack boats using missiles like the Penguin, or even as a support ship for anti submarine warfare. In the ASW role they would have the speed to make engagement by hostile submarines very difficult, they could drop sonar buoys by the bucket load and provide a platform for helicopters. The craft would be similar to the Norwegian Skjold fast attack corvette.

The assumption of the Seacor Cheetah was however also based around the purchase of two logistic support ships from Damen.

These ships are a combination of container vessel, tanker and transport. They can carry landing craft, helicopters, and people. They also have a small hospital on board. The idea was to replace the Endeavour (which is being replaced anyway) and the frigates with these ships. Unfortunately the Navy's actual response was its half billion dollar oil tanker.

New Zealand has a major disaster every eighty years. It has minor disasters like Kaikoura every ten. The return period of disasters is far, far greater than the return period of wars. The trick is to build a defence force that does what only a defence force can do (ie not replace civilian transport helicopters - there is no need for a military specification in a civil defence disaster) but which is flexible enough to respond to all the possible hazards a defence force may be faced with.

For more information read http://www.defencecosts.nz





Tuesday, October 25, 2016

B757's show Labour is completely out of touch on Defence

The recent breakdown of the RNZAF B757s while taking the Prime Minister to India has demonstrated just how useless the Labour Party really is when it comes to defence.

"It really is time for the Government to look at upgrading the aircraft," David Shearer, Labour's Defence spokesperson told 1 NEWS. "I do think what we need is something with a longer haul capacity so that they can fly from here to Singapore without having to at least stop in Australia once or twice to get there," he said

Really David? What kind of idiocy is that?

Isn't Labour meant to be concerned about health, housing and getting people into work? Every dollar spent on the Air Force is a dollar not doing that. Every dollar spent on fancy jets for politicians is a dollar not spent on mental health, life saving cancer drugs or housing the poor in Auckland.

Why is there a problem with the Prime Minister buying a ticket on an ordinary airliner like everyone else? Because the cost to the taxpayer of the Air Force No.40 squadron is $80,000 per flight hour when you divide the cost of the squadron by the number of flight hours it provides. The cost of commercial B757 flights is $12,000 a flight hour and the cost of chartering a B757 (in New Zealand) is $20,000 a flight hour. (see http://www.defencecosts.nz/flaws-in-nz-military/air-force). In other words our Air Force is spectacularly expensive and owning planes is not the best value for money. 

Just because you may want to use a bus from time to time is no reason for buying one. Most people either buy a ticket or they charter. They leave running long haul passenger services to companies which know how to make money out of that business. They don't buy gold plated services for themselves and then stick the public with the bill.

Because the Air Force doesn't exist to compete with private airlines. Nor does it exist to carry swollen headed parliamentarians around the world. It exists to assist with the security of New Zealand. Admittedly that may sometimes include VIP diplomatic missions but that is not what an Air Force (in a country that is not Zimbabwe) is for.

No.40 Squadron was only equipped with 757s because 1) it got a good deal for them at the time and 2) the C-130H is a very slow freight aircraft which is not much fun to fly long distances in. 

Defencecosts.nz argues that the best replacement for the C-130 is the Brazilian Embraer C-390 which is a jet freight aircraft with air-refuelling and sea search capability. The best replacement for the B757s would be air ambulance versions of the Embraer Legacy 600 business jet.

This is because one of the main defence/diplomatic missions of our international engagement is sending medical teams to stricken neighbours. Freight jets like the C-390 are fine for ferrying equipment but not those needing intensive care. Thus the aircraft is predominantly intended as an ambulance with VIP capability. Not a VIP jet with ambulance capability.


The Legacy has a respectable range of 3,200nm compared to the B757s 3,900nm range. That means like a B737 it requires a stop in Darwin to reach Singapore. However the cost of flying the Legacy is very low. Around $5,322 per hour, or less than half that of the B757. The cost of maintenance is also low. New, one will cost about $50 million but it is completely feasible to pick up a second hand one for $15 million. The Air ambulance conversion would probably add another couple of million to that that price.

To buy a long haul jet with a range of B757 would probably mean the biggest 737 the 737-900ER (Extended Range) which would cost $120 million. Operational and maintence costs would probably triple as well.

So which would you rather see the government buy? Two long haul B737-900ERs for $250 million plus, or two Embraer 600s for $30 - $60 million. 

The difference is $190 million dollars. That's a lot of money to not spend on people, isn't it David?



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Bloated half billion dollar RNZN tanker another Brownlee blow out



Half a billion dollars for an oil tanker? Isn't that rather a lot? In 2011 the replacement cost was suggested to be $250 million. Five years later with massive overcapacity of tankers in the world and the Navy has written itself a cheque for just under twice that much.

The old Endeavour which was the 'most efficient ship in the Navy' was basically a refurbished oil tanker. Oil tankers are a dime a dozen at the moment with 1990 massive 160,000 tonne (DWT) Suezmax sized vessels going for as little as US$50m (NZ$68m). A second hand 34,000T tanker can be yours for a paltry $10 million.

The Navy might complain that putting up with old tubs hasn't been that successful for them. They want a 'proper' naval vessel. But the Royal Australian Navy (who are not exactly known for being economical) is currently buying two naval replenishment ships of the Cantabria class from Navantia in Spain for only $175m less. The order for A$640 million (NZ$334m each) ships are to be delivered around 2020. If we'd bought one of those we'd have a saving of $160 million dollars.

According to Navy Today the $493 million new vessel (which for the sake of brevity I'll term "ENT") will have the following spec:

Crew 64 + 11 flight crew
Accommodation: 98
Hospital: 2
Length: 166m
Beam 24.5
Mass: 24,000T
Weapons: 2 mini Typhoon Remote weapon stations and potentially a bow Phalanx
Containers: 12TEU (incl 4 'dangerous goods i.e ammunition)
Diesel (F76) fuel: 8,000T
Avgas (F44) fuel: 1,500T
Water: 250T
Ice class: Polar Class 6 Lloyds Winterisation to -25 degrees
Hangars: 1-2 NH90 medium helicopters
Secondary craft: 2 RHIBS
Ship-to-ship crane 25T
Roll-on Roll Off lane meters: 0
Range: unstated
Speed: 20 knots max
Endurance: not stated

By contrast the Australian vessels will

Crew 122
Length: 170m
Beam 23m
Mass: 19,500T
Weapons: ?
Diesel (F76) fuel: 8,900T
Avgas (JP5) fuel: 1,500T
Water: 215T
Hangars: 2 NH90 medium helicopters
Secondary craft: 2 RHIBS
Ship-to-ship crane
Speed: 20 knots max
Range: 6000nm

Nor is the Polar class 6 status a reason for the cost overrun. Navy Today states that the extra cost of this was $64 million and 1,600 tonnes of extra steel. That still leaves $100 million over and above the RAN vessel's unit cost. That's not a small amount of money. In fact $160m is the same as cutting the third personal income tax band by one percentage point. That's a lot of sick people treated or poor people housed.

At a significant fraction of the cost of an Anzac frigate the new oiler is probably on it's way to becoming the least efficient vessel in the Navy despite the fancy bow design and the relatively small complement. A $100 million worth of fuel and pay is a helluva long payback time especially while the government's internal costs of capital are far higher than commercial prices.

Those costs of capital are very important. They mean that the operating cost of the vessel also increases. That's the point of capital charges. If you can do something more efficiently with less capital there is an incentive to do it. It looks like the Navy doesn't care. It has a tapline straight to taxpayers wallets.

The HMNZS Canterbury cost New Zealand $130 million. Yes, it was over two decades ago and she needed a lot of work once delivered but that was done under warranty. But a tanker costing $493 million is more than three times the cost of Canterbury - and as I say there are a lot of spare tankers floating around these days that could have been converted.

In my view the Navy has missed a huge opportunity. If as proposed by the Defencecosts we had bought two Damen Schelde Logistic Support Vessel Supporter 19000 we wouldn't be looking for another littoral ship. We'd have two littoral ships that were also tankers and anti piracy vessels as well. As with the Australian example the ships would be cheaper because they are a standard design.

Why is this ship so expensive? The answer is simple. It's a fancy one-off. It's a custom-built ship unlike any other in the world. Why has the Navy ordered it? Simple again. The Navy is totally out of control. Nobody is telling them 'no'. Nobody is challenging their inordinate sense of entitlement to Kiwis hard earned tax dollars. The Navy thinks it can gold plate its ship designs and nobody will do anything about it.

And so far the silence from opposition parties has been deafening.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Why AI revolution could defeat US air superiority and hence strategic hegemony

Pictured The Russian Brahmos II hypersonic cruise missile now under development by Russia and India.
The Bhahmos I is a supersonic anti ship cruise missile already deployed


The news that the Alpha AI programme can defeat human fighter pilots in simulated air combat ( BBC) shows that within the lifetime of the F-35 (the hideously expensive, frequently delayed, fighter bomber tasked with replacing half the US arsenal) unpiloted combat aerial vehicles will become the 'top guns' of air combat maneuver.

Not only will UCAVS be able to pull Gs no human body could withstand (which they can do now) they will also be able to outfly human rivals tactically. Add to that the ability to build vehicles without the need for a cockpit and all that opens up for stealthy design and you have a potentially new calculus for air superiority.

Fascinatingly the Alpha AI jet pilot programme does not require a huge computer to run on. In fact the average 2015 desktop will do. Or a high end cellphone. But most important Alpha is a learning machine. It doesn't just run through a bunch of routines. It accepts feedback and recalibrates. It can practice against people or it can practice against itself. Moreover it can practice against itself without burning any fuel or doing anything to the environment.

If you put AI at the core of your air combat vehicle you change the entire basis for air warfare. For a kick off you can afford to lose "pilots". Training is no longer an investment of thousands of flight hours and years of professional development. It's a case Ctrl-C Ctrl-V. Done! Each one is simply a software instantiation you can clone in seconds.

Instead of planes like the F-35 all you need is a Matroyschka doll of missiles. The long range "bus" rocket delivers a pair of Air Combat Manouver drones to the combat zone whether it is 2,000 or 12,000 miles away at hypersonic speeds. The air combat manouver drones use missiles to achieve air superiority until it's time to self destruct. Then they find targets on the surface and fly into them at 8,000km/h. Boom! The obvious targets: other air superiority asset bases - air force bases and carriers.

The ACM drones can be scramjet or rocket powered, carbon-fibre stealthy and a fraction the size of conventional aircraft. Delivered by missile they could easily be far faster than any conventional aircraft. Conventional fighters would be outperformed, outfought and ultimately uneconomic.
Transport aircraft could also provide a "mother ship" role for ACM drones for situations where an IFF problem might arise.

Consider the economics of this. Right now the F-35 is the most expensive weapons system programme in history, having cost US$1.5 trillion. It is $163 billion over budget and 7 years late. Nice for Lockheed Martin but not so great for its customers. When it's finally delivered the F-35 will have a max speed of almost 2,000km/h, a range of 650nm and be able to pull 9Gs. It will be able to carry 6 missiles and have a gun with about 3 seconds of firing ability.

Most of the time the F-35 will be flown in training missions. That is it will be used to programme its pilots. Only America really has the economic power able to sustain a large full time air force that trains so much. But that is a very slow and very expensive upgrade cycle compared to an AI system which never stops training and has uniform and immediate performance duplication.

Building UAVs and rockets is surprisingly cheap. The Brahmos I missile costs $2.1m each but if the Brahmos II with AI ACM took down a plane and a ship the ROI is over 100:1  Larger nations with reputations for military innovation such as Russia and Israel will see the implications in Alpha immediately. The technology is not beyond nations such as China, Iran, Turkey, India, Germany, France, Sweden, Japan, Korea, Australia, Singapore etc either. Even nations as small as New Zealand can build fast rockets.

Obviously the US will want to invest the most in this technology, just as it does in many things. But US military investment - as we have seen with the F-35 - is neither efficient, nor all that nimble. The US has nothing to match BrahMos even now. The Americans are good at reliable - even downright slow - programme development. But US manufacturers thrive on the political infighting over specifications changes, mission changes etc. The list of programmes US services have started but been forced to kill because of budget blowouts is an embarrassingly long one. This means that American programmes are wildly too expensive and embedded in the institutional excesses of their military agencies.

But what happens when America wakes up one day to find that Russia has an ICBM deliverable airforce of hypersonic robot fighters able to wipe out its carrier and ground wings in the air? Or over the next fifteen years a dozen countries develop hypersonic ICBM delivered AI fighter swarms? Yes, laser weapons are a potential defence for her carriers and air bases but the ability to contest the skies themselves will hugely change the status of the US as the nation with the world's greatest air force. Her ability to defend will remain but her ability to strike at will be drastically curtailed.

It is too early to say what the future holds exactly, but one thing is for sure. The F-35's viable lifetime just got a lot shorter.



Monday, June 20, 2016

Gerry Brownlee joins long list of defence bullshitters

Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee's latest justification for extending the tour of 143 New Zealand troops in Iraq - the massacre in Orlando Florida - demonstrates the flagrant contempt the defence establishment has for the intelligence of those who pay its bills.

The Orlando murderer Omar Mateen was a closet gay bar loiterer who clearly had mental health issues connected to his sexuality. Like many from ultra masculine cultures (including the military) he struggled to reconcile his sexuality with his culture and the result was a self-loathing hate crime that cost 49 others their lives.

The only connection with ISIS was a claim in a 911 call that he was acting on behalf of the extremist Wahabi army in Iraq and Syria. ISIS will take credit for any act of violence undertaken in its name as a matter of policy.

In short Minister Brownlees justification for extending the tour is bullshit, as is the whole suggestion that New Zealand politicians have any control at all over our own defence force.

Timeline

18 June 2014  John Key rules out troops being sent to Iraq

25 June 2014 John Key shifts stance

The whole deployment was driven by the US and there is little point pretending otherwise. Gerry gets told to jump and the only question is "how high".

The use of a group of largely incompetent



idiots with weapons in Iraq and Syria who are no existential threat to anyone but themselves as a justification for vast military spend ups and adventurism is simply not credible.

What New Zealand taxpayers have to ask themselves is just what benefits we expect to see from this nonsense?

For the fact is Iraq and Syria are no longer the nations defined by France and Britain under the secret Sykes Picot Agreement. And the illusion of both nations is more damaging than admitting the possibility that the UN should recognise the power realities in the region. That is the only way that peace can prevail. That, and sanctions against the main regional aggressor - Saudi Arabia ( like that will ever happen).

There was a time when New Zealand was admired for its independent diplomatic stance on military matters. That time seems to be drawing to a close and under National we appear to be returning to the role of suck up. For a nation which is pushing Helen Clarke for General Secretary of the United Nations it is obvious that "New Zealand" today is nothing more than a US puppet.


New edition of defence website

Over the years I have written two defence oriented websites, criticising the NZ Defence Force.

In the first one I looked at the "all hazards" risk to New Zealand of various threats ranging from earthquakes to invasion and tried to develop a benefit cost ratio (BCR) approach for investing in defence. It found that unless half of the resource was devoted to civil defence there was no justification for a defence force the size we had. The site compared the actual defence assets we had with an alternative and suggested the alternative was better.

That was before the Christchurch earthquakes (from 2011). What became clear from that experience was that the defence force was a drop in the bucket compared to the enormous resources of the civilian population. Without any particular hostile force involved civilian agencies were perfectly capable of supplying the construction machinery, helicopters and logistics chain needed to sustain a devastated city. My second website took a new approach, again based on all hazards. It looked at the depreciation curves of defence assets and recommended both a change of structure (to reduce costs) and a new course in defence planning.

That site was the precursor of the new one. For what has become increasingly apparent to me is this
  1. The defence force actually has very little to offer in civilian emergencies compared to civilian agencies. Indeed it has used this argument to justify things which are wildly too expensive compared to comparable civilian operations. The result is a deadweight cost to the economy that a small nation does not need.
  2. The defence force in a modern setting is more of a super-national policing agency because in an age of asymmetric warfare the enemy will always hide amongst the civilian population or be armed civilians. There is no point training a regiment of light infantry to refight world war two battles. Nobody has fought that way since the Korean War.
  3. Nations that operate a defence force fall into one of three categories: i) serious investors in weaponry and regional power (e.g. Australia and Singapore) ii) national armies of unity whose main function is to prevent rebellion and ceding (Indonesia and until recently China) iii) small nations whose military are essentially police and civil defence, and a sop for unemployment (New Zealand and the Philippines).
  4. Most industrial nations leverage defence into an industrial development policy. Singapore's state owned STengg is a major defence contractor. Australia has managed to boost Austal catamarans into a major international manufacturer to the US Navy. The New Zealand defence force has done extremely poorly in providing this reciprocal benefit to taxpayers and there are a number of opportunities to reduce costs or add value to civilian life which are not being pursued.
  5. New Zealand's defence force is disproportionately expensive for the size of the risk which is due in part to i) self serving decision making by all three arms of the force and ii) a deliberate strategy of propaganda by the defence force to avoid questioning by invoking nationalism iii) reckless disregard for the cost of the impost the defence force makes on the lives of ordinary New Zealanders compared to the benefit particularly by defence staff.
  6. Civilian reviews have been pathetic in their pandering to defence staff and have clearly been either bullied or captured
  7. A yardstick is needed so that taxpayers can see in context the extent of the ripoff.
To my utter astonishment however the Government has announced a $20 billion spend up over the next 15 years. This may seem small compared to the US spend up of $600 billion approved by the Senate recently but it actually isn't. On a population basis it is twice the US spend and that's before we even talk about New Zealand's GDP/Capita being a third less than the United States.

In short New Zealand is embarking on a military policy of subsidising large foreign military manufacturing companies. A policy we cannot afford. At the same time some of our own companies receive significantly less support than they deserve from military spending.

This is all fully explored on http://www.defencecosts.nz .